Vouchers aren’t a solution for helping build a solid education foundation for Oklahoma’s children. We urge legislators to work with parents and education leaders at all levels for real solutions to support the 700,000 students in their public schools. (To learn more about the state’s tuition-tax credit voucher program called the Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act, click here).
2020 Legislative Update:
- HB 1230 by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, and Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, would increase transparency of the vouchers that fund private schooling for students through the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program. It would require the state Education Department to compile and post an annual report that includes information on the number and amount of each voucher by each participating private school, the number of vouchers denied and disaggregated data on voucher recipients. This bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.
- HB 3321 by Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, would expand the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities to include vouchers for children who have an incarcerated parent. Such children would be eligible for the program even if they don’t have an Individualized Education Plan and would also be exempt from the requirement requiring prior year public school attendance.
Concerns about voucher expansion bills:
- Expansion clearly diverts from the original intent of the state’s voucher program to serve only children with disabilities.
- It continues the practice of adding groups of voucher-eligible students as a means to eventually make vouchers available to all students.
- Lindsey Nicole Henry vouchers directly reduce the amount of state aid available to public schools that serve the vast majority of Oklahoma students. Public schools receive state aid funding only after vouchers funding has been set aside.
- From 2011 to 2018, the LNH program diverted more than $18 million in public money through parents to private schools to serve qualifying students.
- Voucher commitments for this fiscal year alone are expected to exceed $7.4 million – bringing the cumulative total to more than $31 million.
- Eroding public school funding harms the 700,000 students who attend public schools.
- Once a student is awarded a voucher, the voucher stays in place until the student graduates high school, even if at some point the student would no longer qualify as a new recipient.
- There’s strikingly little accountability for the public dollars spent on private schools nor is there any accountability for student achievement.
- Private schools aren’t limited in how they spend voucher money or required to account for expenses.
- Private schools are under no obligation to accept all students.
- Public schools must give state-mandated tests, adhere to state-adopted academic standards and face sanctions if students aren’t performing well. Under current law and the proposed bills, the state isn’t allowed to collect any student achievement-related data from private schools even if they receive state funding through vouchers.
Background information on Lindsey Nicole Henry vouchers:
As its name implies, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program was created specifically to support students with special education needs. However, over the last several years, the Legislature has significantly expanded the scope of the program even though little information is readily and publicly available to taxpayers about how the money is used and what students are served.
- From 2011 to the present, the LNH program diverted more than $30 million in public money through parents to private schools to serve qualifying students.
- Despite the growing cost, information isn’t readily available about where the money is going or who is being served.
- HB 1230 would make more information about the program readily available on the state Education Department’s website, including:
- The total number and amount of scholarships awarded and reported for each participating private school;
- The total number of scholarships denied;
- The total number and amount of scholarship payments suspended for each participating private school;
- Data on participating students, disaggregated by years of participation in the program, grade level, gender, economically disadvantaged status, racial and ethnic groups and disability category.
- Vouchers are funded “off the top” of state aid and directly reduce the dollars available for distribution to public schools.
- The program has no income cap so any student who meets eligibility criteria is eligible regardless of the family’s income. Once a voucher is received, a student can continue to receive a voucher annually.
- The voucher amount is based on the student’s weighted value as calculated according to the state’s education funding formula. It can’t exceed tuition and fee charges, and the state Education Department may retain up to 2.5% for administrative costs.
- Students are eligible for a voucher through one of four paths:
- A child who has an IEP and attended public school in the previous year (unless student is a dependent of an active military service member).
- A child who was adopted while in the permanent custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS), or is in out-of-home placement with DHS, or is in out-of-home placement with the Office of Juvenile Affairs. (No previous public school attendance required).
- A child provided services under an Individual Family Service Plan through the SoonerStart program and during transition was evaluated and determined to be eligible for school district services. (No previous public school attendance required).
- A student who is a current recipient and wishes to renew.